By Bianca Silva
Jacquil Constant is a Hollywood-based filmmaker, cinema production professor at Pasadena City College and founder and executive director of the Haiti International Film Festival. Submissions for the fourth annual 2019 Haiti Film Festival begin on Jan. 1, 2019 and can be submitted through FilmFreeway.com.
Constant spoke to The Haitian Times about the elements of a good film and the impact of the arts and culture sector in Haiti.
What inspired you to form the Haiti International Film Festival?
I was inspired by the negative images of Haiti after the devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010. I was bombarded by images of Haiti by mainstream media that did not reflect the humanity and strength of the country I love so much. I wanted to create a platform to combat those images and show a different side of Haiti. I founded the Haiti International Film Festival in 2015 as a vehicle to do just that. Today, it continues to grow and evolve, but its aim remains the same, to promote and showcase Haiti and its people in a powerful way and combat and change the negative narrative of Haiti being the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. We are so much more than that. As a Haitian-American filmmaker, I know firsthand that Haitians are prideful and resilient people. Also, I want the film festival to serve as a hub of Haitian creativity and innovation through contemporary cinema including short films, narrative, and documentaries.
Your short film, Haiti Is A Nation of Artists focuses on the impact of the arts and culture in Haiti. Why do you think the arts had such a strong hold on Haitians in Haiti and in the diaspora?
The arts are about self-expression and Haitian artists have a lot to say being the first black republic in history that fought and won their independence in 1804. Haitian art offers society an introspective view into the creativity and humanity of Haitian culture. It portrays the influence of African art and spirituality and the creolization of Haiti through cultural influences such as: Taino, French, and African culture. This allows for a distinct visual style that is unique to Haiti. Also, many people are unaware that Haiti produces the most black art in the world. I want to share that. Art also serves an outlet for Haitians to uplift themselves given our country’s turbulent but amazing history.
How did you become interested in becoming a filmmaker?
My interest began when I was very young; 15 years old in fact, after I watched the film Malcolm X. It was a masterpiece directed by Spike Lee. For the first time, I saw a film that wasn’t afraid to display a prominent black activist that was willing to risk his life to improve the conditions of the black community because of the love he had for his people. It was very impactful.
I was also raised in Hollywood, so my mentors and role models were pursuing careers in the arts such as playwrights and filmmaking. Because of them, I knew this career path was possible. In addition, I was raised by a single mother with a strong Haitian cultural pride.
She supported my pursuit of being a filmmaker, though she never tired of reminding me that I would need to work 10 times harder at it to reap the same rewards. She also imparted on me the need to uplift each other and our country, and to always aim for the best when displaying Haitian culture.
In your opinion, what elements make a great film?
The four elements are: story, the hero’s journey, acting, and strong technical skills such as lighting and sound.
The most important element is the story because in order to engage and move someone you have to create a compelling narrative. The writer develops a story with a beginning, middle, and end. It has to be comprehensive and multi-faceted though. In addition, the hero’s journey creates a protagonist that the audience cares about and therefore takes the viewers on their journey and shares their trials with them. The better the journey, the more emotionally engaged and impacted the audience becomes to follow them through their journey.
Acting is also vitally important. This allows the audience to connect with the characters emotionally. If they see themselves reflected on screen, like I did when I watched Malcolm X, the journey is even more emotional.
The last thing but critical component is the technical aspect of lighting and the visual structure of the film that matches the narrative. The style of the film determines whether low key lighting will be used to create drama scene or high key lighting utilized to convey a feeling of happiness such as the lighting used in comedies. It’s about creating the ambiance that leads to feelings you want your audience to feel. The sound is also very important because it allows the audience to understand the mood and tempo of the film. The sound is where 50 percent of the emotion is conveyed in a film, and therefore it is very important for the composer to create music for the film to really bring it to life.